Boise State’s thriving Service-Learning Program integrates academics and service for college students. Now, through work with the Boise State Writing Project, 39 Idaho teachers will carry the proven benefits of combining service with learning into their K-12 classrooms this fall.
The Writing Project is engaged in a 15-month project to promote service-learning in the public schools, thanks to a $15,000 grant from a private donor.
“The donor really believes in service-learning and her passion is to incorporate it into the public schools,” said English professor Jeffrey Wilhelm, who directs BSWP. “The best way to do that is to integrate it into existing curriculum, and we are all about reframing curriculum. It is a great fit.”
Forty-eight participants — 39 practicing teachers from throughout Idaho and nine Boise State pre-service teachers — each spent time on campus this month and will begin the new school year with a fully designed inquiry unit including a service-learning project to implement in the classroom.
Jess Westhoff, who teaches 7th and 8th grades at Anser Charter School in Boise, became engaged with the Boise State Writing Project four years ago and helped plan this year’s sessions. After having incorporated service-learning into her own classroom, she is excited about the possibilities it holds. This past year she involved her students in The Change Project, whereby they studied Africa and then came up with one way they could positively change their community.
“Ultimately that’s what learning is all about. We want students to become part of the community and be part of the conversation about important issues,” she said. “Incorporating service made a real difference in my students’ level of interest. By the middle of the year, I couldn’t identify a single student who wasn’t passionate about what they were learning and doing.”
Hollie Carroll, a second-grade teacher in the Nampa School District, said service-learning works even with very young school children. For the past two years, her students have built a relationship with an adopted grandfather who participates in classroom activities. In turn, the students do a service day at his home that involves chores like yard work and window cleaning.
“It’s very simplistic with 7- and 8-year-olds, but it’s a start,” she said. “It instills a sense of community and of the core value that life does not revolve around me. Our students have so much to offer their communities and the world they live in.”
The BSWP will be involved with participating teachers throughout the year as a thinking partner and resource, Wilhelm said, and will help assess projects when teachers gather again next spring.
BSWP is an affiliate of the National Writing Project and was established at Boise State in 2005. It offers programming throughout the year, including two annual conferences, a variety of courses and institutes, in-service series for schools, workshops and workshop series, retreats, programs for student writers and sponsored speeches and workshops with literacy experts. This past year, more than 1,000 Idaho educators received more than 30,000 hours of assistance.
For more information, visit www.bswproject.com.